News, Trump Administration

Betsy DeVos, Jeb Bush, gather with school choice champions in Tennessee

Some of the country’s most prominent school choice champions—including U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush—will gather once again this week to push a choice-friendly slate of K-12 reforms.

Bush has been leading the national education reformer summit since 2008, extolling the virtues of charters, private school vouchers and virtual schools, despite mounting criticism of some states’ divestment from traditional public school coffers.

This week’s summit, which is slated to kick off Wednesday, is expected to do the same, taking on charter growth, the nation’s new federal education law (The Every Student Succeeds Act) and more.

Chalkbeat offered a primer on the school choice gathering this week.

From Chalkbeat:

On Thursday, Bush will introduce a keynote address by the nation’s most prominent “school choice” advocate, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. A long-time friend and former member of the foundation’s board, DeVos was championed by Bush to lead the education department under President Donald Trump.

“I’m a big Betsy DeVos fan,” Bush told Chalkbeat in a recent interview. “I think she’s been the best advocate for school choice of moving to a parent-centered system of any secretary ever.”

The Nashville gathering of some 1,100 reform-minded players comes as efforts to reengineer education as a consumer choice have buoyed under the Trump administration, even as new data has called the movement’s primary vehicles into question.

Recent studies in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio and Washington, D.C., show that student achievement drops, at least initially, when students use vouchers to attend private school.

Charter schools have fallen substantially in popularity among both Democrats and Republicans, according to a 2017 poll by choice-friendly Education Next.

And some virtual schools in Indiana, Colorado and Pennsylvania have been called out recently for low rates of student log-in and graduation, in addition to poor scores. (The nation’s largest operator of virtual charters, K12, is among the summit’s sponsors.)

Bush cites the “highly charged political environment” for the slump in charter cheering, and he questions the validity of the voucher research.

“I’m not a psychometrician or a statistician, but I don’t think that the scale of the studies is enough to warrant great praise if they’re good for vouchers or great criticism if they’re not,” he said. “The next iteration of studies needs to go deeper.”

He’s promoting other reforms too, even as the effectiveness of his own Florida agenda is still being debated. His foundation, known as ExcelinEd for short, advocates for new teaching approaches like personalized learning, policy shifts such as emphasizing early literacy, and accountability programs like assigning A-F letter grades to schools based on test scores.

Ultimately, Bush said, student learning should be at the center of each decision, and “we need to significantly pick up the pace of reform.”

News, Trump Administration

Betsy DeVos accused of citing bogus statistics

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using bogus data to back up recent calls for reforms in American public schools, Chalkbeat reports today.

From Chalkbeat:

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a remarkable claim: “Children starting kindergarten this year face a prospect of having 65 percent of the jobs they will ultimately fill not yet having been created.”

This statistic bolsters DeVos’s view that schools need to radically change in order to accommodate a rapidly evolving economy.

But there’s a problem: that number appears to have no basis in fact.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not respond to a request for a source for this statistic.

DeVos is not the first person to use a version of this claim. In fact, it’s been percolating for some time, across the world. After a number of British politicians repeated some iteration of the statistic, the BBC investigated its source.

Apparently the claim gained popularity in a 2011 book by Cathy Davidson, a CUNY professor; this in turn was cited by a New York Times article. But attempts to track that claim back to an actual study have failed, which Davidson herself now concedes, saying she no longer uses the figure.

Others making the claim offer an even flimsier citation. For instance, a reportreleased by the World Economic Forum says, “By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types,” and simply cites a series of popular YouTube videos (which doesn’t even appear to make that precise claim).

Some even say the number is higher: A Huffington Post headline said that “85% Of Jobs That Will Exist In 2030 Haven’t Been Invented Yet.” The piece links to a report by Dell, which bases the claim on “experts” at a workshop organized by a group called Institute for the Future.

In short, no one has pointed to any credible research that lands on the 65 percent figure.

Of course, making predictions about the future of work is inherently tricky. But a recent report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated areas where the most new jobs would be created between 2016 and 2026. The positions included software application developers but also personal care aides, nurses, fast food workers, home health aides, waiters, and janitors — and though that’s less than 10 years in the future, these are mostly jobs that have been around for some time.

Sweeping, unsourced claims like this about the future economy are not uncommon — and seem to be a driving force behind some policymakers’ approach to education. The fact that DeVos’s go-to number isn’t backed up by evidence raises questions about the foundation of her view that schools need dramatic overhaul.

After citing the 65 percent figure, DeVos continued, saying, “You have to think differently about what the role of education and preparation is.”

DeVos is a wealthy GOP booster and school choice advocate tapped by President Trump for the nation’s top education policymaking job this year. She’s been a lightning rod for critics since then.

During her confirmation hearings this year, DeVos was even accused of plagiarizing sections in a Senate questionnaire. 

 

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

816,000 NC kids would be left out of GOP tax bill’s Child Tax Credit proposal due to low income

House Republican leaders highlight an increase in the maximum value of the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) as their tax bill’s signature benefit for working families, but the provision completely excludes 354,000 children in North Carolina whose parents work in low-paying jobs, according to a new report from the Washington, DC-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Another 462,000 North Carolinian children in low-income working families would receive less than the full $600 increase in the credit that would be available to higher income families.

Altogether, about 816,000 North Carolinian children in working families would either be excluded entirely or only partially benefit from the increase in the CTC. A larger share of North Carolinian children are excluded or only partially benefit than in the country as a whole.

Nationally, roughly 23 million children would be partially or entirely excluded from the House Republicans’ plan, even as it newly extends the CTC to families with incomes between $150,000 and $294,000. For example, a single mom of two working full time at the minimum wage would get no benefit from the CTC expansion under the House Republican plan while a married couple earning $230,000 would receive a new $3,200 benefit.

Republican Senate leaders have suggested that they may increase the CTC further when they release their tax bill this week. Unless they revise the proposal’s basic structure, however, it would provide far larger benefits to higher income families than to families that face difficulties affording the basics.

Analysis on the Children and Top Working Parent Occupations Affected

Analysis shows that of the roughly 23 million children across America that would be partially or fully excluded from the CTC increase:

  • 8 million are children under the age 6
  • 7 million are Latino children
  • 3 million are white children
  • 6 million are African American children
  • 600,000 are Asian children

According to the report:

“The average income of working families with children that would be partially or entirely left out of the CTC increase is $22,000.  Among these working families, two-thirds include at least one parent who works full time for most of the year.”

Analysis of available data shows that the top occupations of working parents fully or partially left out of CTC proposal in house tax bill are:

  • Office and administrative support
  • Sales
  • Food preparation and serving
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance
  • Construction and extraction
  • Transportation and material moving
  • Manufacturing
  • Personal care and service
  • Health care support

Based on this latest report it is clear that rushing this tax legislation without real debate, without informed analysis, and without input from key stakeholders is not the way our Congress should operate.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

News, Trump Administration

State, national educators say U.S. House tax plan would risk K-12 jobs, funding

School busesState and national education leaders say a U.S. House tax proposal to nix much of the state and local tax deduction (SALT) would “blow a hole” in public school funding from state and local governments.

Its just the latest criticism of ongoing tax wrangling in the nation’s capitol. Teachers are also fired up over a House proposal to do away with a $250 deduction for classroom supplies.

But K-12 leaders with the National Education Association (NEA) and the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) say Congressional Republicans’ SALT plan may put about 250,000 education jobs at risk across the country.

NEA’s state-by-state analysis of the SALT plan says that more than $5 million in revenue to support public schools would be jeopardized in North Carolina over the next 10 years, along with more than 6,000 educator jobs.

On Thursday, public school chiefs with the NEA and NCAE characterized the SALT proposal as a “$5 trillion tax plan giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations.”

From their statement:

“The Republican leadership’s tax plan is another example of misguided priorities in Washington,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “The plan is a tax giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations paid for on the backs of working people, students and educators.”

The NEA analysis also showed that nationally the bill would lead to cuts of approximately $250 billion in public education funding over the next 10 years. Corporations, by the way, get to keep their state and local tax deductions. A cut of this magnitude is akin to eliminating the Title I and IDEA special education programs overnight. If enacted, the elimination of state and local tax deduction could have a negative, ripple effect on states’ and local communities’ ability to fund public services such as public education. In North Carolina, that amounts to nearly $5 billion over ten years.

“Eliminating the state and local tax deduction would jeopardize the ability of our state and local governments to adequately fund public education,” said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “This will translate into cuts to public schools, lost jobs to educators, overcrowded classrooms that deprive students of one-on-one attention, and threats to public education.”

The impact of eliminating SALT on public education is nearly equal to the education jobs lost during the Great Recession. By most accounts, the country lost about 300,000 education jobs during that time. To cope with the economic crisis our country faced, schools made draconian cuts to public education funding that had a negative impact on students. In addition to losing teachers, school aides, and other key education support professionals, some school districts reduced the number of school days from five to four; critical education programs (before and after school programs, kindergarten) also took a hit. Class sizes ballooned.

The Republican leadership bill comes as the nation also faces a teacher shortage. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, every state in the country was facing a teacher shortage. In addition, according to the Washington Post, school districts also are struggling to fill positions in math, reading and English language arts, as well as finding substitute teachers.

“Instead of tax cuts for the wealthy, we must ensure that our students have caring, qualified, and committed educators in order to succeed. Now here come the tax cuts for the rich paid for by students and middle-class families,” said Jewell. “This bill is terrible for our state because it is a giveaway for the wealthy and corporations funded on the backs of our students and the middle class. We urge Congress to reject it.”

The criticism from public school leaders comes with U.S. Senate Republicans expected to announce their own tax plan in the coming days.

Environment, Trump Administration

EPA chief Scott Pruitt appoints Donald van der Vaart to revamped, anti-reg Science Advisory Board

Former  NC Secretary of the Environment Donald van der Vaart joins several anti-regulatory, pro-industry appointees to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. (Photo: NC DEQ)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt today is expected to appoint Donald van der Vaart, the former NC Secretary of the Environment, to a key panel charged with giving scientific advice to the agency’s leadership.

Van der Vaart is one of several new appointees to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board; nearly all Pruitt’s picks have a history of opposing environmental regulation or have worked for corporations that have been regulated by the EPA.

Earlier this year, Pruitt jettisoned members of the SAB — many of them respected scientists — arguing that anyone who has received EPA funding should be excluded from the board. But Pruitt’s justification — that funding recipients would have a conflict of interest — disguised his true intent: To pack the SAB with yesmen and yeswomen, with their own set of ethical conflicts, who would embrace the task of relaxing or eliminating environmental regulations.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the appointees represent “voices from regulated industries, academics and environmental regulators from conservative states, and researchers who have a history of critiquing the science and economics underpinning tighter environmental regulations.”

Van der Vaart fills that bill. Last November, he wrote a letter to President-elect Trump, advocating for a dismantling of the EPA. As DEQ Secretary, Van der Vaart publicly announced that the agency would become more “business-friendly,” which translated into more lenient permitting and enforcement. He joined several states’ environmental departments in suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the US rule.

He now works in DEQ’s Division of Air Quality, where he demoted himself to avoid being fired by the incoming administration.